29 May 2024, 12:55
By Laraine Janes and Theresa Raymond Nov 07, 2014

20 years of furniture fashion

After more than 20 years of organising UK furnishing exhibitions, Furniture Fairs’ Laraine Janes and Theresa Raymond, organisers of the new January Furniture Show – taking place between 13-15th January at the Birmingham NEC – have seen numerous furniture trends come and go. This month, the pair look back at two decades of home furnishings …

Back in the early 1990s the home interiors market was dominated by pine, pine, and more pine. Companies such as Ducal reigned supreme, Victoriana was still massive, and amidst the creativity of our contrived casual clutter we sank into three-piece suites with floral loose covers. The suite, naturally, had matching cushions and curtains.

In this world of shabby chic we watched tellies housed in TV cabinets, stored our CDs and VHS videos in special storage cabinets and ate regularly around a dining room table with matching chairs. In our top-to-toe fitted bedrooms we slept in trendy pine or metal bedsteads. And much of the furniture we bought for the home was made in Britain.

Fast-forward 20 years and, after a brief fling with leather upholstery – which, with the rise and rise of imports became significantly more affordable in the early 2000s – we’re once again turning to sofas dressed in floral fabrics amidst a return to homely clutter.

But, while there is something of a renaissance in British furniture manufacturing, chances are that the sofas or coffee tables we now own have been imported from the Far East or Eastern Europe. By far the greatest sea-change of the past 20 years has been the shift of furniture production to offshore locations.

Gone too from our homes are the TV and CD/video cabinets, as we watch wall-mounted, large-screen televisions, through which we can digitally download our films and stream music from our smart phones.

We rarely sit together as a family around a formal dining table, preferring instead to dine casually – and even individually – around a kitchen island unit or with take-aways in front of the telly. Many of us don’t even bother to buy a dining table, and the beautifully-veneered cabinets we once needed to house the best crockery and glassware have been replaced by chunky, solid oak furniture from overseas.

Banished from many homes too is the outdated notion of the three-piece suite or anything else that smacks of being matched and co-ordinated. We’re much more into unit seating (corner sofas), and sofas with chaise-longue-style extensions. The recliner chair has also become significantly more popular, along with feature-piece chairs that help to express our individuality.

In the bedroom, the fully-fitted look has given way to a more practical semi-fitted finish, which allows our more mobile population to take their prized wardrobe storage pieces with them in the event of a house move.

We’ve also returned to the unquestionable luxury of the divan bed sleeping experience. But this time round, the once boring-looking bed has been souped up to become a visual feast of fully-upholstered comfort. The Ottoman bed, with all that lift up and store space, has also returned to favour – whereas the waterbed, which made a brief appearance in the 90s, has never quite enjoyed its promised potential.

In between the then and now of home furniture fashions came a stark era of minimalism, best summed up by Ikea’s Chuck out the Chintz advertising campaign of the late 1990s. Out went the clutter, the ornaments, the frippery, and the walls full of pictures. In came the sleek and the very, very plain. Walls were plain, floors were plain, curtains were plain and upholstery was plain. It made cleaning easy and homes very sellable, but hardly distinguished between one house and the next.

So, we’re back full circle, to an era of renewed and reinvigorated individualism where the British love of self-expression once again reigns supreme. It’s a whole new take on the chintz-filled world of the 1990s, but testament to the ongoing inventiveness of the furnishings sector. To see what the future holds, be sure to visit the furnishings event of the year – the January Furniture Show!

Laraine Janes and Theresa Raymond are co-directors of Furniture Fairs, the company behind the January Furniture Show, Manchester Furniture Show and NBF Bed Show.

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